At it's heart, Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull seeks to answer a vital question:
In a creative business, what does it mean to manage well?
Ed Catmull is one of the co-founders of Pixar (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter), and was president of both Pixar and Disney Animation until he retired in 2019.
The book is about what Catmull has learned in leading a fast-growing business that is primarily creative but that also incorporates large amounts of technology into its make-up. The book includes some of Catmull's biography and of the origins and journey of Pixar, but they are included mainly as context and as illustrations of the things he discusses.
Creativity, Inc., is a book for agency leaders who want to lead their teams towards excellence. It's a manual for those striving for businesses distinguished for originality, for a reputation for innovation, and for consistently high quality. It's a unique and indispensable guide for leading teams of creative and technical people towards those objectives.
Although the book's subtitle is:
Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
this is absolutely not a self-help book.
It is about leadership in business, about how the things that are often shied away from in the workplace — honesty, candour and openness; failure, though mostly the fear of it; things that are unknown or hidden; randomness; and more — all play a central part in creativity and innovation. The book, then, is about how to embrace these things, and how to use them to take your organisation up to new heights.
Catmull discusses the ideals and the practices, the habits and techniques, that have made Pixar admired and, through the renaissance of Disney Animation, are proven to work beyond the special environment of Pixar.
The Big Idea
This is a book about business culture, about crafting the ethos of a company, the healthy philosophies that help define it and what those philosophies look like when converted into practical actions. It is especially focussed on businesses and workplaces that are comprised of creative people, and those that work in creative industries. But there is lots to learn for agencies that are creating things but would not define themselves as being in the classic 'creative sector'.
Catmull covers four stages of the growth and maturing of a business, from getting started, through protecting the new, young organisation, onto building and sustaining things after that initial rush of applied energy, and finally expanding out and testing what we know works in one context into others that are different.
Catmull describes in depth a number of principles and practices that are vital at Pixar, and he argues are essential in every creative business.
He describes multiple healthy approaches to constructive criticism — ways to enable it to happen without being destructive or damaging. He argues for healthy ways to support and respond to fear and failure, to unreal expectations (dimensions that he calls 'the hungry beast and the ugly baby'), to change and randomness in an organisation, and that leaders must accept that in complexity there are, necessarily, hidden things, that our perceptions are limited.
The big idea of the book is that in businesses, especially creative ones, change is inevitable and, ultimately, necessary. That means that the leaders of those businesses need healthy ways to respond to change, to rely on openness, but that must mean embracing candour and critical feedback for all. And all of that needs good management, in order for leaders to take their team to new heights.
Catmull's book is autobiographical in parts, portraying his own path into leading a business and starting, growing and developing Pixar. This makes the things he describes highly practical, tried and tested in the real world of Pixar, and replicable as Catmull and John Lassiter took on the rejuvenation of Disney Animation.
This is a book for anyone who needs to manage well.